Former Beaufort County Council chairman Weston Newton is making Beaufort County proud. Now a Republican state representative, Newton has made open government a priority. He chaired a subcommittee last year that studied ways to improve the state's Freedom of Information Act — an oft-used vehicle by which the media and public get information about their government.
Why does the law need to be studied? Too often, FOIA requests are handled improperly or ignored, shutting citizens off from information that they have a right to access. Examples we've seen — and experienced — include exorbitant fees charged for government bodies filling requests; rejection of requests for baseless reasons (with no method to appeal the decision); information left out of filled requests and long delays in receiving requested information, sometimes rendering it useless.
While the general consensus is the FOIA law is weak, no recent progress has been made to improve it. In fact, several steps backward have occurred in the last few years including judges closing court proceedings and sealing documents in Beaufort County, local government bodies holding closed-door meetings during which the public's business was discussed and S.C. Supreme Court decisions that have made it easier for public bodies to operate in the dark. Continue>>>